Archive for June, 2008

Index of Posts for June 2008

June 30, 2008

Index of Posts for June 2008


Richmond Police Descend on Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice Activists Protesting Dominion Energy

June 30, 2008

Photo by Blue Ridge Earth First! For more, see coverage on Flickr. For more information, contact Hannah Morgan at 434-960-2080 or Hilary Lufkin at 804-357-4826.

Twenty non-violent activists were protesting Dominion Energy’s promotion of new coal and nuclear facilities as solutions to climate change this morning when Richmond police swept in at 7:30 am to roust them. Five Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) members had formed a human chain to blockade the entrance to Dominion’s corporate headquarters on Tredegar Street in downtown Richmond at 7:00 am. Police also arrested seven other BREF and Mountain Justice (MJ) members at the site, all of whom were holding signs and banners and had intended to disband when the police arrived but were given no chance to do.

The protesters said the proposed $1.8 billion Wise County plant would emit too much mercury and carbon dioxide into the air, promote strip mining for coal in Southwest Virginia and cost consumers too much for electricity. The also oppose Dominion’s announced plans to consider an additional nuclear reactor at its North Anna plant in Louisa County.

Michael Martz of the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that the protest blocked traffic on Tredegar Street for “more than two hours” while Dominion employees were forced to walk to work. He reports that company spokesman Karl Neddenien said,

Dominion respects peaceful protest….However, we do not condone illegal activities, such as the blocking of the road and preventing our employees from getting to work.

The twelve have each have been charged with two class-two misdemeanors of impeding police and blocking access by emergency vehicles, as well as a traffic charge. Magistrates have set bail set at $2,000 each and BREF has asked that donations for the bail and legal defense be made through Paypal to or sent to BREF! care of Hannah Morgan, 1226 Stonegate Way Crozet, Virginia 22932.

Bethany Spitzer and Alyssa Barrett each had one hand locked into a weighted 55-gallon oil drum reading “We Won’t Stop Until You Do.” They were linked to Kaitlyn Hart and Holly Garrett, who each had a hand encased into two-and-a-half gallon bucket of hardened cement. Meanwhile, Marley Green served a counterweight to the oil drum, as he hung suspended from the Bell Isle Footbridge above the road. Other, as yet unnamed individuals, held banners that said “No New Coal Plant in Wise County” and “It’s Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy,”

Green explained, “Accelerating the rate of mountaintop removal mining to supply the citizens of Virginia with dirty energy is an irresponsible use of the most valuable resources of this Commonwealth. The impact of uranium mining, radioactive waste disposal, and nuclear plant operations on communities across the Southeast are unacceptable trade-offs for the continuation of business as usual energy policy. Dominion should further conservation and efficiency measures and develop solar, wind, and other renewable sources of power in order to do justice to the land and the people of Virginia.”

“We’ve been through the regulatory process — it’s time to take action on our own,” added Hannah Morgan, a 19-year-old resident of the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia, who acted as spokeswoman for the protest.

Morgan was referring to the June 25, 2008 decision by the Citizen’s Air Board to grant final permits for Dominion’s proposed new 585 MW coal-fired electric plant in Wise County Virginia, which you can find reported on by Chesapeake Climate Action’s Susanna Murley, as well as by the Richmond Times Dispatch‘s Rex Bowman. (NewsTrust reviews of the latter, here.)

While the Air Board reduced the permitted emissions from those Dominion requested, it declined to address the acceleration of mountaintop removal coal mining, increased carbon dioxide emissions and other issues raised by over a hundred Virginians at a June 24 public hearing at Wise County High School.

The Virginia permit bucked a trend in other states including Florida, Kansas and Texas, which have recently canceled plans for new coal plants. Dominion plans to begin construction this week. BREF! and MJS plan continued protests until Dominion agrees to cancel construction of its proposed Wise County coal plant, to stop burning burning coal mined through mountaintop removal in its existing coal plants and to build no new nuclear facilities.

Already, strip mining and mountaintop removal mining (MTR) have permanently demolished over 25% of Wise County’s land mass to get to the coal, rather than using other methods which would preserve the mountains. MTR dumps the rubble from the blasted mountains and to date buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams across Appalachia.

Dominion’s website features a page, Myths and Facts, telling its side of the story and a contact form where you can ask for more information. The Wise Energy for Virginia Campaign (a partnership of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Southern Environmental Law Center) has published its own list of 7 myths about Dominion’s Wise County plant, six of which still apply after last week’s permits, according to Tom Owens. You’ll find them below.


MYTH #1: The Wise County Coal Plant will be a “Hybrid Energy Center.”

FACT: When first proposed, the plant was named the Southwest Virginia Power Station. Dominion’s marketing executives renamed the project the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center. But this is no Toyota Prius. Its deplorable environmental performance, outrageous cost, and massive global warming impact would make it the Hummer of coal-burning power plants. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has determined that under Virginia law it is a “conventional coal” plant.1

MYTH #2: The Wise County Coal Plant will be carbon-capture compatible.

FACT: During proceedings before the SCC, Dominion executives were asked if there were any specific technologies the company had invested in to capture global warming pollution. Dominion conceded, “We have taken a look at, in a general way, [technologies] for carbon capture. But, no, there is nothing specific we have decided on this facility.”2

Not surprisingly, in granting Dominion a certificate to build the plant, the SCC rejected Dominion’s request for a financial bonus for carbon-capture compatibility. Rather, the SCC was explicitly clear – of the $1.8 billion approved to build the plant, not one penny is earmarked to address the plant’s global warming pollution, either now or at any time in the future.3

MYTH #3: The Wise County Coal Plant will be “state-of-the-art.”

FACT: Dominion is far behind the curve in addressing global warming. According to a report by MIT,4 only the most efficient coal plants (known as supercritical plants) will be ready to capture carbon. The proposed Wise County coal plant is not one of those – it would be an inefficient, subcritical coal plant. Dominion has no plan to capture the 5.4 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide the plant would emit every year.

Meanwhile, other electric utilities – even those heavily relying on coal – are working on technologies to capture carbon. AEP plans commercial operation of carbon capture equipment by 20125 (the same year Dominion wants to bring this conventional coal plant into service).

MYTH #4: The Wise County Coal Plant will clean up Southwest Virginia’s “gob” piles.

FACT: “Garbage of Bituminous,” or “gob” is the toxic waste coal left behind by the coal mining industry. Dominion has made no commitment to clean up “gob.” Instead, the fuel for the plant would likely be newly mined coal.6 As a result, the Dominion plant would only encourage mountaintop removal coal mining and other devastating practices. Where traditional mining practices cut mine shafts to access coal seams, mountaintop removal coal mining levels entire mountains and buries miles of streams in rubble. It literally obliterates the natural landscape.

MYTH #5: The Wise County Coal Plant Will Boost The Economy.

FACT: While the coal plant would have 75 permanent employees,7 the hundreds of jobs Dominion promises would only be temporary construction jobs that would disappear once the plant is built. At the same time, the coal plant would accelerate mountaintop removal coal mining, a process that has done far more economic harm than good. Since 1980, Wise County has experienced a 28% decline in the average income and a 53.1% decline in mining jobs — despite an increase in coal production during the same timeframe.8

Mountain top removal coal mining also hurts the tourism industry in Wise County, which generates more than $32 million a year in expenditures, payroll, and state and local taxes. The Crooked Trail, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, draws more than 60,000 visitors to Appalachia and Southwestern Virginia each year.9 The USA Today reports, “From Dickenson County to Galax, rural areas that offer winding trails, bluegrass music and wine tastings have become some of the state’s fastest-growing attractions.”10 And more than 35,000 acres of the pristine Jefferson National Forest lie within Wise County, providing a “multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities: hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, hunting, fishing, camping, boating ….”11

MYTH #6: Electricity Rates For Dominion Customers Will Only Increase “Nominally.”12

FACT: The State Corporation Commission’s staff determined that rates would increase so much as to have a net negative impact on the Virginia economy, with a loss of 1,474 jobs.13 As “electricity rates increase,” the staff explained, consumers would have “less income to spend on other goods and services.” Less consumer spending hurts the economy, particularly small businesses. Dominion’s construction costs have increased $200 million since the SCC analysis was done, meaning even higher electricity rates and more job loss.

1 The Final Order from the State Corporation Commission states: “We find that this coal-fired facility qualifies, at a minimum, as a ‘conventional coal’ facility under § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code. …Accordingly, the Coal Plant shall receive an enhanced return of 100 basis points as prescribed for a ‘conventional coal’ plant by § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code.”

2 Cross-Examination of James K. Martin, Dominion Vice President for Fossil & Hydro Technical Services, before the State Corporation Commission, (Feb. 6, 2008).

3 The Final Order from the State Corporation Commission states:

We find that the construction costs projected by the Company to be incurred in connection with the proposed Coal Plant are reasonable and prudent at Virginia Power’s currently projected level of $1.8 billion. …

[W]e do not find that it is reasonable or prudent for the Company to incur any amount of costs above the cost estimates that comprise the projected level of $1.8 billion. We cannot approve in essence a blank check for Virginia Power to build the Coal Plant at any cost …

The finding of reasonableness and prudence herein does not extend to any costs associated with retrofitting, or other modifications to, the Coal Plant to make it carbon capture compatible. Accordingly, our approval herein is subject to the requirement that there shall be no recovery of any costs associated with future retrofitting, or other future modifications to, the Coal Plant to make it carboncapture compatible….

4 MIT, The Future of Coal, at pages 19, Table 3.1., 36, Table 3.7, and 96.

5 See Bruce Baine, AEP Vice President, “AEP and Climate Legislation,” (10/9/07).

6 Combustion calculations performed for Dominion by its contractor, Shaw, Stone & Webster, evaluate performance as if the plant would burn, alternatively: 100% Central Appalachian Coal; 100% run-of-mine coal; 60% Moss #3 waste coal and 40% Central Appalachian coal; and, finally, 83% run-of-mine coal and 17% wood and waste coal. These calculations were submitted as part of Dominion’s application for a federal Clean Air Act (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) permit to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

7 According to the testimony of Dominion’s Senior Vice President, E. Paul Hilton, “construction of the Plant will create at least 800 new jobs” while actual “operation of the Plant” will employ only “75 plant operators.”

8 Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration.

9 Dionne Walker, “Rural Virginia tourism: Small, But Growing Fast,” USA Today, 5/25/05. You can learn about Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, the Carter Family, Ralph Stanley, and much more at

10 Dionne Walker, op. cit.

12 Tim Craig and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Dominion Gets Initial Approval For Coal Plant,Washington Post, 4/1/08, p. B2: “Company officials say there might be ‘nominal’ increases in residents’ utility bills starting next year to offset the cost of construction of the plant.”)

13 Testimony of Mark K. Carsley, Division of Economics and Finance, State Corporation Commission.

Greenpeace turns the tables

June 27, 2008

Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director for Greenpeace USA, turned the tables on industry astroturf groups when his organization formed the benign sounding “”Tomorrow’s Energy Today,” in order to sponsor a table Coal USA 2007 June 26-7, 2008 with the

the biggest wigs from 170 energy companies sitting in a single room and sharing their profit-fueled dreams for a coal-powered future.

The name may have been a spoof on the American Petroleum Institute’s website, For Muffett’s account, see “Hello from Never Land! Adventures as a Coal Industry Insider.”

By the way, the New York Times has an interesting environmental blog, DotEarth
written by its reporter, Andrew C. Revkin. And American Public Radio has a project, Public Insight Network which includes The Greenwash Brigade, as well as Engage 2008.

Bush Stonewalls…Again

June 23, 2008

McClatchy’s Rob Hotakainen June 29 report, “White House asserts executive privilege in air-quality case” says that the White House is setting up a “constitutional showdown” in asserting executive privilege to refuse to produce thousands of pages of documents requested by in order to sort out Bush’s role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s rejection of California’s efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA) who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is conducting the investigation, says,

I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president….There are thousands of internal White House documents that would show whether the president and his staff acted lawfully. But the president has said they must be kept from Congress and the public.

In testimony last month, Johnson refused to say whether he’d discussed the waiver request with Bush.

Waxman canceled a contempt vote that had been scheduled for June 20, Friday morning against Johnson and White House official Susan Dudley after the White House informed him of its last-minute decision. Waxman said the two had refused to cooperate with his panel.

Jessica graduates summa cum Laude

June 22, 2008

The graduation included accolades from faculty and their rendition of “Somewhere after Massage School” followed by diplomas an a pot luck lunch in the picnic shelter at Nellies Cave Park. Then I had to take my leave to go write my submission for llrx on FISA. Tomorrow, some folks from Mountian Justice are driving down to Wise County to attend the Citizen Air Pollution Control Board hearing on the proposed coal plant, where we’ll be advocating for clean energy, not coal.

Monday, June 23

3 p.m.Site tour on Black Mountain
We’ll meet at municipal parking lot across from Town Hall in downtown Appalachia, Virginia, to travel to the top of Black Mountain, where you can view the thousands of acres of Virginia land destroyed due to mountaintop removal coal mining, a stark contrast with the protected land which lies directly over over the Kentucky border.

4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Hike on Roaring Branch
We’ll meet Anna Hess of the Clinch Coalition at the pull-off on 23 between Appalachia and Big Stone Gap.

7 p.m.Spaghetti Dinner
at the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) office at 217 Main Street in downtown Appalachia, followed by the Breezy Holl’r Band at the Appalachia Amphitheater across the street.

Tuesday, June 24

7:45 to 9 a.m. — Breakfast
J. J. Kelly High School cafeteria in Wise, Virginia and signup for Public Comment period

9 a.m.Virginia Citizen’s Air Pollution Control Board Meeting
Held in Auditorium of J. J. Kelly High School in Wise, Virginia

Son of Rambow at the Lyric

June 21, 2008

After opening April 4 in the UK, Son of Rambow started last night at the Lyric, and I’ll go to the 7 o’clock show and then volunteer at the concession stand for the later show.

The film is written and directed by Garth Jennings (who also directed the 2005 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) of the production company Hammer and Tongs. Jennings tells Andrea Hubert in an interview with him and his H&T production partner, Nick Goldsmith, in the March 29 Guardian, “Boys in the Mud.”

Imagine if you’d never watched TV, and the first thing you ever saw was Stallone stitching up his own arm. How inspiring would that be? How much would you want to be Stallone?

Stallone reported likes the film but it took a long time to get it to theaters. In an interview with Amber Wilkinson, Jennings explains about the delay from its preview at Sundance in 2007,

It’s taken me ages again. I can’t do anything quickly, it drives me mad!

Round about June [2007] I thought, well that’s the end of that, but it was one of those things where everyone was very positive about it and it was going to come out but when we realised we were going to have to go through a whole bunch of legal things – very formal, very amicable, but we realised we’d have to go through them nonetheless – we thought, ‘Oh God’.

You feel like momentum has gone – and I know that that counts for something and maybe we lost something, who knows? But now that it’s coming out that all goes away.

House Buckles to Bush on FISA

June 20, 2008

For almost six years after Sept. 11, 2001, telecommunications companies allegedly helped the National Security Agency eavesdrop on American phone and computer lines without FISA Court warrants.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU are coordinating the 47 remaining suits filed as a result. After unsuccessfully trying to get the matter thrown out of court, the companies have spent a huge amount of money lobbying Congress. January 20,

The industry has spent a total $13.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year, putting it on course to surpass last year’s $40.2 million total. Both AT&T and Verizon moved up in the ranks of companies spending on lobbying efforts (including those in all industries), from eighth and 13th last year to third and fourth, respectively, so far this year.

The industry has also given a total of $5.3 million in federal contributions to parties, committees and candidates this election cycle, with 54 percent going to Republicans. That figure excludes any money given to Congress since March 30, i.e. contributions made as lawmakers prepared to vote on the immunity issue.

President Bush has demand repeatedly that Congress update the FISA law, promising to veto any bill which does not provide immunity for the companies, saying that Congress must not

limit our ability to collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us.

Critics such as attorney Glenn Greenwald say that retroactive immunity serves to

eviscerate the Fourth Amendment [my link], exempt their largest corporate contributors from the rule of law, and endorse the most radical aspects of the Bush lawbreaking regime.

June 18, Kevin Bankston (email), a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned,

whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called “compromise” on immunity for phone companies that broke the law is anything but a compromise, and that Congress appears poised to needlessly toss the rule of law out the window and deprive these millions of ordinary Americans of their day in court. My one simple message is that no matter how they spin it, this is still immunity, period.

Indeed, there’s an easy litmus test that everyone can use when evaluating this proposal or any other: does it allow the court to rule on the legality of the surveillance? That is, does it allow the plaintiffs to obtain a public decision on whether the companies broke the law, and if they did, to get an injunction to stop them from breaking the law again? If the answer is “no”, then it’s still immunity, plain and simple.

With the failure to pass an extension of last year’s Protect America Act, it looked for a few months like the House, at least was ready to stand up to the President on the issue of telecom immunity. It took a while, but Mr. Bush has now gotten his way. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, (HR 6304) on 6/19/08 and the House passed the measure less than twenty-four hours later by a vote of 293-129 . 105 Democrats voted in favor of the “bipartisan compromise,” which took advantage of division among Democrats. In the June 20 debate (Congressional Record), one one of the opponents of the bill, Barbara Lee (D-CA) had argued ,

I rise in strong opposition to this very terrible bill. It does not strike the proper balance between protecting national security and preserving our cherished civil liberties.

Now I know how important those protections are from my personal experience with unwarranted domestic surveillance and wiretapping during the J. Edgar Hoover period. The government’s infamous COINTELPRO program ruined the lives of many innocent persons. Others, including myself, had their privacy invaded even though they posed absolutely no threat to national security. We all remember how Dr. King and his family were the victims of the most shameful government-sponsored wiretapping. We must never go down this road again. Yet here we are again.

This bill undermines the ability of Federal courts to review the legality of domestic surveillance programs, it provides de facto retroactive immunity to telecom companies and does not sunset until December 31, 2012. How can we do that? Four years is way too long.

A good bill will protect Americans against terrorism and not erode the fourth amendment. This bill scares me to death, and I urge a “no” vote.

And yet, Democrats voting aye included not just those affilliated with the 48 member Blue Dog Coalition, but also Rick Boucher (VA), Nick Rahall (WV), John Murtha (PA), House Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and House Speaker Steny Hoyer (MD). One Republican, Tim Johnson (IL) voted against the bill.

The Senate has the bill is on the calendar for next week and, of course, had already acceded to immunity. Barack Obama issued a statement in support of the House bill June 20, but said he would “try” to strip a provision granting immunity to telecommunication companies. Of course, a former vote to do the same failed the Senate on the last go round. Bloomberg announced on June 22 that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in an interview to be aired on “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” said he may schedule a separate vote on stripping immunity from the bill, although he expressed pessimism about its success.

Pelosi’s office has outlined her reasons for supporting the bill. The first is political. An unnamed “top” aide told Time‘s Massimo Calabresi for a June 20 post “Behind the Compromise on Spying” that as many as ten House races might have been affected.

Second, Pelosi contends that the telecoms offered a significant concession from the the Senate version of the bill in offering to let a judge decide if the letters they received from the Administration asking for their help show that the government was after terrorist suspects. The telecoms are casting it as a victory. She also argues that a Justice Department inspector general review of and report on Bush’s domestic surveillance program and a provision making clear that Congress does not give the President a free pass on complying with domestic surveillance laws during wartime “strengthens Congressional oversight.”

The ACLU commissioned a study by the Mellman Group back in October 2007 which showed that “voters vigorously oppose warrantless wiretaps, blanket warrants, and telecom amnesty.” One wonders why Pelosi was so sure that signing away thse rights was necessary. Glenn Greenwald points out:

The very idea that Democrats would lose elections if they didn’t support this bill is false on numerous levels. They could have easily removed the issue simply by voting to extend the PAA orders for 6-9 months. More importantly, Karl Rove’s central strategy in the 2006 midterm election was to use FISA and torture to depict the Democrats as being Weak on Terrorism, and the Democrats crushed the Republicans and took over both houses of Congress. Pelosi’s claim that they support extremist Bush policies in order to avoid election losses in “swing districts” is dubious in the extreme — an excuse to feed to Democratic voters to justify their complicity in these matters.

Will Wall Street Lobbying Stop Brakes on Oil Speculation

June 19, 2008

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum’s June 19 WaPo article, “Wall Street Lobbies to Protect Speculative Oil Trades” has be wondering how soon we’ll be hearing that speculation is not the problem at all. And whether anyone in the media will help decipher the facts from the spin.

Wall Street banks and other large financial institutions have begun putting intense pressure on Congress to hold off on legislation that would curtail their highly profitable trading in oil contracts — an activity increasingly blamed by lawmakers for driving up prices to record levels.

Charles Smith ousted for doing his job overseeing KBR

June 18, 2008

In the 6/17/08 story, “ Army Overseer Tells of Ouster Over KBR Stir,” the NYT’s James Risen, in another piece of enterprise journalism (he is one of the authors who broke the NSA story) tells of how Charles M. Smith, the senior civilian overseeing the Army’s multibillion-dollar KBR contract during the first two years of the war says he was forced from his job in 2004. He had informed the company’s officials that the Army would impose escalating financial penalties if they failed to provide documentation of more than one billion dollars in expenses being billed without proper substantiation.

They had a gigantic amount of costs they couldn’t justify…Ultimately, the money that was going to KBR was money being taken away from the troops, and I wasn’t going to do that.

Risen says the Army won’t acknowledge the reason for Smith’s replacement, only that it reversed Smith’s actions. The reasoning? According to Risen:

KBR had warned that if it was not paid, it would reduce payments to subcontractors, which in turn would cut back on services.

Looks like Mr. Bush is not the only bully who gets his way. And the reward? Part of a new 10-year, $150 billion contract in Iraq.

CIA psychologists reverse engineered survival training to devise torture

June 17, 2008

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee released documents and convened a hearing morning of June 17, 2007 to “receive testimony on the origins of aggressive interrogation techniques” pointing out a

particularly disturbing part of the story: how the techniques — used to teach American soldiers to resist abusive interrogations by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions — were turned on their head and sanctioned by senior leaders for their use offensively against detainees.

Joby Warrick had a page one story in the WaPo: “Report Questions Pentagon Accounts:
Officials Looked Into Interrogation Methods Early On Military lawyers raised strong concerns about interrogation methods a month before then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved them.”

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you, like I did, read Katherine Eban’s special report in Vanity Fair July 17, 2007, “Rorschach and Awe.”
But, long before then, in May 2005, the Physicians for Human Rights released their report, “Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces.” And since then they have issued other reports of interest, all available at the group’s site.

Update: June 18, 2008, Eban takes a look at what was revealed in the hearing, “The Psychology-Torture Connection.”